December 05, 2004
What Women Most And Least Enjoy

Commuting is the least enjoyable activity for women? I bet women would enjoy commuting a lot more if they regularly car-pooled with close friends.

The technique, described in the Dec. 3 issue of Science, provides insight into what people actually enjoy and what kinds of factors affect how happy we are with our lives.

Some of the findings confirm what we already know while others are counter-intuitive. The researchers assessed how people felt during 28 types of activities and found that intimate relations were the most enjoyable, while commuting was the least enjoyable.

More surprisingly, taking care of their children was also among the less enjoyable activities, although people generally report that their children are the greatest source of joy in their lives.

"When people are asked how much they enjoy spending time with their kids they think of all the nice things---reading them a story, going to the zoo," said University of Michigan psychologist Norbert Schwarz, a co-author of the Science article. "But they don't take the other times into account, the times when they are trying to do something else and find the kids distracting. When we sample all the times that parents spend with their children, the picture is less positive than parents expect. On the other hand, we also find that people enjoy spending time with their relatives much more than they usually assume."

General reports of what people enjoy may also differ from descriptions of how people actually feel in a specific situation because many people hesitate to report socially inappropriate feelings. This is less of a problem when they report on specific episodes. "Saying that you generally don't enjoy spending time with your kids is terrible," Schwarz said, "but admitting that they were a pain last night is quite acceptable." The new Day Reconstruction Method provides a better picture of people's daily experiences by improving accurate recall of how they felt in specific situations.

By illuminating what kinds of activities, under what conditions and with what partners, are most likely to be linked with positive or negative feelings, the method has potential value for medical researchers examining the emotional burden of different illnesses and the health consequences of stress, according to Schwarz, who is a research scientist at the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR).

For the study, researchers analyzed questionnaires completed by a convenience sample of 909 working women. Participants answered demographic and general satisfaction questions and were asked to construct a short diary of the previous day: "Think of your day as a continuous series of scenes or episodes in a film," the directions began. After participants developed their diary, they answered a series of structured questions about each episode, including when it started and ended, what they were doing, where they were, with whom they were interacting, and how they felt. The study builds on earlier work on Americans' use of time, initiated by ISR economist F. Thomas Juster.

The average number of daily activities participants reported was 14.1 and the average duration of each episode was 61 minutes.

In addition to intimate relations, socializing, relaxing, praying or meditating, eating, exercising, and watching TV were among the most enjoyable activities. Commuting was the least enjoyable activity, with working, doing housework, using the computer for e-mail or Internet, and taking care of children rounding out the bottom of the list.

Interactions with friends and relatives were rated as the most enjoyable, followed by activities with spouses or significant others, children, clients or customers, co-workers and bosses. At the bottom of the list: activities done alone.

Personal characteristics such as trouble maintaining enthusiasm (an indicator of depression) or a poor night's sleep exerted a pervasive influence on how people felt during daily activities. Features of the current situation such as the identity of partners in an interaction or the level of time pressure experienced at work exerted a powerful effect.

But general life circumstances---such as how secure people think their jobs are, or whether they are single or married---had a relatively small impact on their feelings throughout the day. These factors were closely linked with how satisfied people said they were with their lives in general, but had little influence on how positive they felt during specific activities.

"It's not that life circumstances are irrelevant to well-being," notes Schwarz. "On the contrary, we found that people experience large variations in feelings during the course of a normal day. This variation highlights the importance of optimizing the allocation of time across situations and activities. If you want to improve your well-being, make sure that you allocate your time wisely."

Unfortunately, that's not easy. When the researchers examined the amount of time spent on various activities, they found that people spent the bulk of their waking time---11.5 hours---engaged in the activities they enjoyed the least: work, housework and commuting.

Women do not like using the computer to surf the internet. No wonder most blog comment posters appear to be men. But web surfing is a solitary activity in most cases. No wonder women do not like it.

Women do not like their children as much as they pretend to.

On average, the 900 women gave "Intimate relations" a positive score of 5.10, compared to 4.59 for socializing. Housework scored 3.73, which was better at least than working at 3.62 and commuting with a lowly score of 3.45.

As for who the women preferred to be with, friends clearly won out with a positive score of 4.36. Children landed in the middle, after relatives and spouses.

The measurement method to produce these results is called the Day Reconstruction Method (DRM).

The tool, called the Day Reconstruction Method (DRM), assesses how people spend their time and how they feel about, or experience, activities throughout a given day. In a trial of the new technique, a group of women rated the psychological and social aspects of a number of daily activities. Among these women, relaxing with friends was one of the most enjoyable activities, and the least enjoyable was commuting.

DRM is described by Daniel Kahneman, Ph.D., a professor of Psychology and Public Affairs at Princeton University, and colleagues in the December 3, 2004, issue of Science. Dr. Kahneman was joined in this study by his Princeton University colleague, economist Alan B. Krueger, and psychologists David A. Schkade of the University of California, San Diego, Norbert Schwarz of the University of Michigan, and Arthur A. Stone of Stony Brook University.

"Current measures of well-being and quality of life need to be significantly improved," says Richard M. Suzman, Ph.D., Associate Director of the National Institute on Aging (NIA), which in part funded the research. "In the future I predict that this approach will become an essential part of national surveys seeking to assess the quality of life. The construction of a National Well-Being Account that supplements the measure of GNP with a measure of aggregate happiness is a revolutionary idea." The NIA is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The DRM is going to be used for macroeconomic measurements of the feeling of well-being of large groups of people.

The new tool will be used in an effort to calculate a "national well-being account," a measure similar to economic gauges such as the gross national product. The research team is working with the Gallup Organization to pilot a national telephone survey using the new method.

"The potential value is tremendous," said Princeton economist Alan Krueger, who worked with psychologist Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel laureate, on the study. "Right now we use national income as our main indicator of well-being, but income is only a small contributor to life satisfaction. Ultimately, if our survey is successful and generates the type of data we hope, we would like to see the government implement our method to provide an ongoing measure of well-being in addition to national income."

The Princeton researchers collaborated with psychologists David Schkade of the University of California-San Diego, Norbert Schwarz of the University of Michigan and Arthur Stone of the State University of New York-Stony Brook.

"Current measures of well-being and quality of life need to be significantly improved," said Richard Suzman, associate director of the National Institute on Aging, which partially funded the research. "In the future I predict that this approach will become an essential part of national surveys seeking to assess the quality of life. The construction of a national well-being account that supplements the measure of GNP with a measure of aggregate happiness is a revolutionary idea."

I will bet that using this method men will eventually be shown to find solitary activities to be more pleasurable than women find them.

So how to make women more happy? More sex obviously. Drugs that increase erotic feelings and joy of sex would greatly help increase average level of happiness. But aside from that? Housework will become more automated in the future as new materials and robots reduce the need for cleaning. Also, computer networks might eventually reduce the need for commuting. But that would also reduce the amount of at-work socializing that women can engage in. So will home office work make women more or less happy?

How to make children easier to raise and less time-consuming? Genetic engineering to make them more well-behaved. Do women with poorly behaved children get less joy out of raising them? Probably.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2004 December 05 05:10 PM  Brain Economics

SpakKadi said at December 5, 2004 6:26 PM:

I'm surprised at the internet/e-mail results since the internet can also be a source of social interaction. Perhaps these working women don't have much time to participate in online communities, which would otherwise increase the social benefit of the internet to them as individuals. When I went away to college, it forced my mother to use the internet to communicate with me (since we both hate telephones). Now, it's a primary source of commincation between her and many of her relatives. If interacting with relatives is high on the pleasure list, wouldn't this make using the internet a pleasurable experience? Maybe they should have separated surfing and checking e-mail - my mother still gets frustrated with internet use not related to the internet.

BTW - I'm female. But I don't have kids to bug me while I'm surfing. Does the study allow for two activites to happen at once or to interfere with one another? Maybe surfing is something they do when they find the time, so the stress of what came before and what they know they need to do later is hanging over them, thus taking away some of the enjoyment.

lindenen said at December 6, 2004 12:25 AM:

I want to see what axactly they questioned the women about "children". The actual quotes. Does this change depending on the child's age? Etc.

polltroll said at December 6, 2004 10:09 AM:


HELPING THE TROOPS: Reader Ron Ford sends this very comprehensive list of support-the-troops websites...

John said at December 7, 2004 8:37 PM:

What were the results for women who did not work outside the home? Both those that are primary care givers, and those that are employeed in a career, but work at home have to say? I don't see that this was examined.

Bob Badour said at December 9, 2004 11:54 AM:


I suggest that surfing the internet is closer to a hunter behavior than a gatherer behavior. I would predict men on average get great enjoyment from it while women on average find it very unsatisfying.

Hunters search for prey and then evaluate the prey from a distance with no physical contact. When they find suitable prey, they make a quick decision, a fast response and if they are fortunate, they win their prize. If the hunter is really successful and affluent, servants take care of all the messy bits and deliver the finished goods at a later time.

When I want to buy something, I go online and search for it. (God Bless Google!) I evaluate it from a distance, quickly make my decision and win my prize. If it is an online purchase, someone takes care of all the messy bits and later I find the finished goods where my 'servants' left them for my convenience.

Gatherers go to places of abundance to evaluate and compare many similar choices looking for the best among them. The reward comes from finding bargains: single instances of superior quality or caches of decent quality overlooked by other gatherers. Gatherers perform their evaluations in an intimate way where they can feel, smell, hear, taste and see the items up close.

My sister is a gatherer. She can spend hours going from store to store to handle identical items and can get almost as much reward from concluding that none of them are good enough as she gets from coming home with great bargains. She would not enjoy going from website to website because she cannot handle anything. The experience would only frustrate her. "This one is a few cents cheaper, but what about the quality?" "What if I don't like it when it gets here?" "What if it doesn't fit right?"

Of course, average responses are only average responses. My girlfriend hates all shopping except groceries and is somewhat atypical for women in other ways. She spends a lot of her time on the computer surfing etc. Her online purchase choices compared to mine or other men's are typically female.

And Randall surfs like a girl! ;) His surfing behaviour combines both hunting and gathering traits. He reads more online material than anyone I know so that he can consider and compare all of it, know where the best sources of information are etc. I have a sneaking suspicion that long, long ago one of Randall's ancestors domesticated the cow or the chicken or something.

Post a comment
Name (not anon or anonymous):
Email Address:
Remember info?

Go Read More Posts On FuturePundit
Site Traffic Info
The contents of this site are copyright